As long as scientists have posited the theory that our worldwide failure to curb fossil fuel emissions has irrevocably altered our planet’s climate, knuckleheads near and far have used inane, non-scientific rhetoric to call the theory into question. So the next time someone hands you an idiotic aphorism about global warming, use one of these data-driven comebacks to shut them down (for a moment, anyway).
Q: Global warming? The weather feels pretty cold to me!
A: You’re right, the weather is a bit nippy. Weather, according to NASA, is defined as the “conditions of the atmosphere [over] a short period of time”. Climate, on the other hand, represents long-term trends in atmospheric behavior. There are bound to be a few cool days this year, but this should not suggest that our global climate is just fine; scientists are more interested in the fact that average temperatures seem to be rising on an annual basis.
According to findings released by both NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 2012 was one of the 10 hottest years on record; according to Science Daily, more than 15,000 temperature records were broken in the United States during the month of March alone. Not that anyone was blindsided by last year’s recordings; every year of the 21st century has placed within the 14 hottest years since 1880. In fact, 2012 was merely the 36th year in a row during which climatologists recorded annual temperatures that exceeded the historical average.
So while it might be a little cooler today, chances are the temperature is higher than it was one year ago.
Q: Why is everyone freaking out? The global temperature has barely risen a single degree in the last 100 years.
A: You’re absolutely correct about the second part. Climatologists estimate that the average global temperature increased by roughly 1 degree Celsius during the 20th century. However, to say these increases steadily occurred over the course of 100 years is a gross misinterpretation of scientific data.
According to NASA data, average temperatures (as recorded by meteorological stations) rose roughly 0.3 degree Celsius between 1900 and 1940; this uptick was followed by a plateau period that lasted until the early 80’s. The surface air temperature of the planet increased 0.8 degree Celsius from 1980 to 2000, and has been steadily skyrocketing ever since. In other words, if you’re 33 or older, then roughly 80 percent of that single-degree temperature increase occurred within your lifetime.
So it’ll be another century before the temperature rises another degree? Try a couple of decades. According to a 2001 study published by researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, the temperature could rise by as much as 1.2 degrees Celsius by 2030, and the overall temperature for the century could climb as much as 5.4 degrees Celsius between 2000 and 2100.
Q. Climate change is a naturally occurring cycle ― that’s why it was hotter thousands of years ago than it is today.
A: Only part of this is technically true, says the NOAA. During the Mid-Holocene Period, which took place between 5,000 and 7,000 years ago, the average temperature was warmer than it is today, but only in the Northern Hemisphere during the summer months. This was caused by shifts in the planetary orbit that increased the amount of solar radiation throughout the northernmost regions of Earth. For the same reason, the winters were actually colder during this period than they are now.
In that instance, climate change was a naturally occurring cycle. However, the shift that has taken place over the last 250 years was almost certainly caused by human activity. Want proof? There is none; this is science we’re talking about. But according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a consortium of more than 1,300 environmental experts, the probability that human activity has been the primary cause of the current global warming patterns exceeds 90 percent. Human activity, as identified by the IPCC, includes industrial operations, electricity usage, and fossil fuel-based transportation.
Tell us about your memorable conversation(s) with a climate change skeptic. What did you say in response?